Vatican youth meeting

Vatican youth meeting notes that some want changes to Catholic teachings

Mar 24, 2018

by Joshua J. McElwee

VATICAN CITY — A Vatican-hosted conference of some 300 young people meant to advise Catholic bishops on the needs of youth today has acknowledged that some in their generation want the church to change its teachings on so-called “polemical issues” such as same-sex marriage and use of contraception.

In a final document issued after a weeklong meeting in Rome, the young people also called on the Catholic Church to better include them at all levels of its global community and noted women are “not given an equal place” in church leadership.

“The Church must involve young people in its decision-making processes and offer them more leadership roles,” the youth say in their document, issued March 24 after six days of encounter intended to help prelates who will gather in Rome in October for a Synod of Bishops focused on the needs of the rising generation.

“These positions need to be on a parish, diocesan, national and international level, even on a commission to the Vatican,” state the youth. “We strongly feel that we are ready to be leaders.”

The final document for the pre-synod meeting, divided into 15 sub-sections over 16 pages, takes a generous tone: calling at points for a more welcoming, open and merciful church.

It is also noted by its direct approach: while written with a deep infusion of Catholic theology and spirituality, the youth do not cite excessively from church documents and instead speak freely about issues they see affecting them.

“Today’s young people are looking for an authentic Church,” the youth say at one point. “We want to say, especially to the hierarchy of the Church, that they should be a transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful and interactive community.”

“A credible Church is one which is not afraid to allow itself to be seen as vulnerable,” they suggest. “The Church should be sincere in admitting its past and present wrongs.”

The young people address church teachings on same-sex marriage and contraception in a section of the document on how youth today are searching for meaning in life.

“There is often great disagreement among young people, both within the Church and in the wider world, about some of her teachings which are especially controversial today,” the text states. “Examples of these include: contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, marriage, and how the priesthood is perceived in different realities in the Church.”

“What is important to note is that irrespective of their level of understanding of Church teaching, there is still disagreement and ongoing discussion among young people on these polemical issues,” it continues. “As a result, they may want the Church to change her teaching or at least have access to a better explanation and to more formation on these questions.”

The document addresses the situation for women in the church in the same section, and returns to the issue at several other points.

“Today, there is a general problem in society in that women are still not given an equal place,” it states. “This is also true in the Church.”

“There are great examples of women serving in consecrated religious communities and in lay leadership roles,” it continues. “However, for some young women, these examples are not always visible.”

“One key question arises from these reflections; what are the places where women can flourish within the Church and society?” say the young people. “The Church can approach these problems with real discussion and open-mindedness to different ideas and experiences.”

The pre-synod document was drafted after discussions among 20 small language groups at the March 19-24 meeting. The process also included input from 15,000 people engaged in the process through Facebook and other social networks.

The attendees at the meeting, open to people between the ages of 16-29, were selected by global bishops’ conferences, Catholic institutions and the Vatican’s synod office.

Francis opened the event March 19 with an address telling the group to “be brave” and speak freely in their discussions, telling them the Catholic Church must take risks in order to grow.

Filipe Domingues, a Brazilian delegate at the meeting who was part of the drafting committee for the final document, told NCR that attendees saw the event “as a single opportunity to speak, meaning that it might not be repeated soon.”

“The pope told us to speak and young people did,” said Domingues, who has lived in Rome for several years pursuing graduate studies.

Katie Prejean McGrady, one of three delegates selected by the U.S. bishops to attend the gathering, called the final document a “game changer.”

“If this document doesn’t result in a seismic shift in how we minister to & with young people, then it’s not being read properly,” she said on Twitter shortly before the document’s release.

Among those attending the gathering were also non-Catholics and non-believers. Sandro Bucher, an atheist delegate from Switzerland, said in a brief interview that he felt “very welcomed” in his small language group and was heartened that both young Catholics and non-believers have “the same concerns about the world and where we are going.”

After its presentation March 24, the pre-synod meeting final document is to be formally presented to Francis as part of the Vatican’s Mass for Palm Sunday March 25. The text is then going to be used to help form the October synod’s initial working document, known as an instrumentum laboris.

The young people say in the introduction to their document that they did not intend for it to be used “as an empirical analysis of any other time in the past, but rather as an expression of where we are now, where we are headed and as an indicator of what [the church] needs to do moving forward.”

“This is to give the Bishops a compass,” they state.

Included in the other issues the document discusses are young peoples’ relationship with technology, their understanding of the future of society, and their need for mentors to walk with them as they face life’s challenges.

“A common dream across continents and oceans is the desire to find a place where the young person can feel that he or she belongs,” they state. “Young people seek to engage with and address the social justice issues of our time. We seek the opportunity to work towards building a better world.”

Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent.

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  1. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    My goodness, have these children tapped into a frequency that is being broadcast in other places?

    Who else could give the Bishops a proper compass but the new captains of this ship called life? Catholics and non-believers have already begun to assemble around these solutions because the kids have been forcing our hands in this game where they ARE the house that wins. If you haven’t played this game and released your cards, that’s an issue, at any age.
    That’s just careful planning within entropy. What’s the use of playing the game if you are just going to fold?

    For them to build this better world, they should have open access to people who identify as creative specialists – people who are not ashamed to get involved in building something that has never been built before. If you don’t know who they are, apply within – I know some people. If you self-recognise as one of the courageous, contact Andrea Rogers of the Franciscan backed “Our Children’s Trust” lawsuit and tell her Lloyd Allan MacPherson sent you. They are looking for supporters in Ireland and are promising to help establish this “better world” the kids are seeking. They are well on their way.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    Authentic, transparent, welcoming, honest, inviting, communicative, accessible, joyful, interactive, credible, vulnerable, sincere in admitting to past and present wrongs… and an equal place for women.
    Thought I would just highlight this wish list. Aren’t they exactly the attributes of what a Church founded by Christ should display.

  3. Eddie Finnegan says:

    A very welcome development from a live cross-section of the world’s young people – going straight to the Pope (sorry, that should be ‘going directly to the Pope’!) rather than the messily micro-managed questionnaire carry-on that was meant to feed into the ‘instrumentum laboris’ for the dual synods on the Family.

    No Lloyd, they’re not “children” or “kids” but 300+ young people aged 16-29, obviously ‘on the ball’, meeting in Rome with input from 15,000 online.
    My suggestion would be that you stand back and try not to see this through your usual lens or range of metaphor. The 16-29 yr old “kids” as you call them won’t put up with this sort of paternalistic nonsense from us old have-beens. We are hardly the sort of mentors they say they need to help them face life’s challenges.

  4. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Eddie, I stand corrected on the proper demographic. My apologies.

    So I guess I can’t count on you to contact the Children’s Trust folk…my 16 and 17 year old who both suffer with endocrine disorders (a common side-effect of living within the fossil fuel industry) are counting on this sort of “paternalistic nonsense” to land on countries far and wide. From my last contact with the legal team, it doesn’t look like Ireland has been involved – they don’t have a table at WMoF. This lawsuit was established mostly by 13-17 year old plaintiffs. I keep telling them that the paternalistic volunteer is out there but the numbers say something different.

    By the time they are 18 and incur their first “debt” to society, they’ve lost their innocence in a way, and are swept in this mimetic tide with the rest of us, so their negotiating strategy suddenly changes and they need to follow the pack or be cast out. So “on the ball” takes on a whole new meaning in my lens. Do things happen differently in Ireland?

    Where there is lack of vision, people perish – is that how the story goes? One of those young people I’ve had the chance of working with as a music producer is non-musical but a competent lyricist who had to apply for publishing rights to a song we crafted outlining church/society’s necessity to “invert” in order for progress to move forward (March 2015) – it is looking like it is going to be picked up by one of Montreal’s hottest up and coming artists. These are his words but programmed by knowledge of mimetic desire and whose responsibility it is to tone it down, from a global market perspective (my intelligence gathering points me towards the Jesuits for some reason). I composed it, musically while homeless in 2015.

    “(V) Holding a standard that’s getting in deep. Is everything meant to be broken. Falling all over the words that we say – the truth, the furthest from spoken. Creative diversions so we’d see no wrong – swept from under our noses. As clear as the words that you hear in our song – wake up, smell the roses – Our stare down, won’t look away. (C) If change is unspoken, we’ll never speak, reborn in this wilderness, the top of our peak. From the bottom to the top, we are all going to go – and our stare down, won’t look away. (V) Our level of commitment is deeper than most. Working together, but all we do is take. If we were the insects, the earth would be our host. A force of reality you can’t break. Eat from my hand now and I’ll do the same – it’s time to pay it forward. So live your life but look up from this game – get up stand up don’t be a coward.”

    In October 2015, the Pope seemed to have responded to our initial prayer.

    You reformers/Irish represent the standard in equality the world strives for. You are the most equitable nation and I go to bed and wake up daily knowing this full well and applaud you for it. It’s the last thing I think of and the first thing in my mind each day “Thank God for the Irish”. I’ve drained as much inspiration from this website as any other I’ve encountered while volunteering 1300 hours to a cause that lasted 7 years. It was this online meeting place that gave me the strength to not only hit those hours, but also find the support an abuse survivor requires. So please don’t sell your generation short. We are all sources of inspiration, if we choose to be – Ireland for me, is in the lead in that respect.

    The good news? : the solution to life’s problems can not be monetised, thankfully. It’s in that volunteer work you either choose to do or avoid. The future of our church, and society for that matter, is once again in the hands of women because they and their children (of any age) won’t let anything drastic take place. These women will gladly supply the support for the unfolding solutions as they are discovered, as it once was and forever shall be under their watch. It has been written.

    So, yes, I agree – we all suffer under judgement at some time and in that process, the truth cuts deep. The clear message is that forgiveness is guaranteed to one and all but only if you come to the table and see what it is you are about to embark on. Can courage set everyone free from sin once again? I understand this to be true through non-gender specific intelligence I’ve gathered from this website – these old wine skins are bursting with renewal. Cheers!!

  5. Con Devree says:

    There is a lot in this document, so much so that it is difficult to do it justice in a small space.

    It has the problems inherent in all reports compiled by a committee. It is contradictory in places. Ideas are juxtaposed based on different dispositions, different levels of development and different geographical experiences. While much of document is typical of current adult discourse, and that of young people in general, it articulates its most useful purpose – that adults should “view these reflections as an expression of where we are now, where we are headed and as an indicator of what she [the Church] needs to do moving forward.” Adults should listen to us.

    “The document expresses some of our thoughts and experiences. It is neither a theological treatise, nor is it to establish new Church teaching. It is a statement reflecting the specific realities, personalities, beliefs and experiences of the young people of the world. It points towards a clearer understanding of young people according to the various contexts in which young people are situated. It is one source, among others, that will contribute to the Instrumentum Laboris for the Synod of Bishops 2018.” (Various quotations put together)

    On the one hand the Church should “move forward to explore with openness and faith where the young person is situated today … how we as the Church can best accompany young people towards a deeper understanding of themselves and their place in the world. But “On many occasions, young people have difficulty finding a space in the Church where they can actively participate and lead.”

    On the other hand the document says, one cannot ignore the fact that “many young Catholics accept these teachings [of the Church] and find in them a source of joy. They desire the Church to not only hold fast to them amid unpopularity but to also proclaim them with greater depth of teaching.” And again “the Church draws the attention of young people by being rooted in Jesus Christ. Christ is the Truth which makes the Church different from any other worldly group with which we may identify.”

    Since the Eucharist is declared by Vatican II as the source and summit of the Church I searched the document for the words “Eucharist” and “Mass.” Eucharist was mentioned once, in the context of Eucharistic Adoration. Mass as in Holy Mass twice in terms of complaint. Lack of emphasis on the Holy Mass is a weakness.

    However the document contains the following: “We long for experiences that can deepen our relationship with Jesus in the real world. …. Therefore, WE RESPOND TO initiatives that offer us an understanding of the Sacraments, prayer and the liturgy [Eucharist?], in order to properly SHARE AND DEFEND OUR FAITH in the secular world. The Sacraments are of great value to us who desire to develop a deeper sense of what they mean in our lives. This is true of marriage preparation, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, preparation for baptism of children and so forth. Because of the lack of clear and attractive presentation as to what the Sacraments truly offer, some of us go through the process of receiving but undervaluing them.”

    The document is saying: this is where we are at; “young people are looking for companions on the journey, to be embraced by faithful men and women who express the truth and allow young people to articulate their understanding of faith and their vocation.” In other words we need more catechesis, both as part of the process of our necessarily becoming more participative in the life and tradition of the Church, and very definitely as a necessary preparation to encourage us in that participation.

  6. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #4 – Young People, an environmentally stable economy, and a church crying out for young voices within it – young priests already by baptism, to bridge the past and future and all the gaps within the church. How many Irish parish pastoral councils are trying to bridge their own needs with youthful enthusiastic voices for such causes?

    Lloyd Allan MacPherson may sometimes speak a language (from Cape Breton Island, Canada) that we Irish do not yet know – but our own young people are bubbling also these times, in tune with his. What could our own legal systems – north and south – do to make their voices heard re the economy/ecology deficits over here?

    Those young chins will be getting closer to sea level, long after all of us go, so what about solar panels on all church roof tops also, right away, to prove we are as ‘with it’ as they are? Are there serious obstacles to that?

  7. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Sean, you inspired me today and I had this great idea. I scoured FB through my “Freeworlder” team and found a gentleman who routinely interacts with us as we send him packages to Africa in support of his 35 children.

    I asked him a few questions and responded in kind. He is near a Catholic University with Catholic Churches, he now has a municipal plan for them to go solar, all the media he wants to reward them with, in kind for their donations and now a new directive in life, creating social media for church/enterprise using freeware software on the Ubuntu platform – the software designer is none other than Michael Tellinger who is one of the world’s top consultant in the contributionist model.

    Oh, and I’ll connect him to the lawsuit tomorrow. When I say I need Ireland to mobilise this suit with spokesperson like volunteers who are not afraid to call out disparity and dig up its foundations of sand, I really mean it. It would mean the world to Canada if you met our in kind volunteer efforts. I’m doing this while volunteering at times when people sleep and I don’t worried sick about if I can get this thing going or not.

    Is this a point anyone on this website can negotiate away from. If it is, please explain how. It’s completely taken me over the charity that exists. He’s collected 35 from dying and near dead elders whose older children had left for work in the larger centres. If anyone would like to see a print out of our exchange together, with it really starting when I told him that I would be kissing his feet right now when I realised how I could mobilise his situation for support and give him free tools to make a difference where he is and provide him the community outreach our Stone Church Restoration Society presents. With my experience at VP level in a huge province and manager level here (330 employees) – I could managing this full time and we’d be doing nothing but providing the tools for support, carbon-free through digital means everywhere in the world.

    The solution is never monetised – it has to be crafted and given freely like the Eucharist. Right now, the earth is our host and it is a force of reality we can’t break. We can only mend it from this point on. Join me in mending it. If you don’t think this is your calling, I established those two tasks in less than an hour.

  8. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #5. “In other words we need more catechesis.”

    These young people are as literate as you are, Con – so why did you see fit to tell them what they really, really want?

    They mention appreciatively in §14 ‘Youth Catechisms’ but in the same section say:

    “Small, local groups where we can express questions and share in Christian fellowship are also paramount to maintaining the faith. These smaller events in social spaces can bridge the gap between larger Church events and the parish. Gathering in these ways is especially important to those in countries less accepting of Christians.”

    Notice ‘express questions’. In my experiences of Catechesis in Ireland, that is all about the questions asked and answered by someone else – a sure formula for the boredom and alienation that so many Irish young people already feel re ‘Church’.

    First should come experience of God’s unconditional love, and our parishes need to get into that as a matter of priority. Cathechesis thereafter needs to be driven by the questions of the young people thereby involved, not by the agendae of us elders. Please see:

  9. Con Devree says:

    I refer you Sean (9)to my quotation at #5 “We long for experiences that can deepen our relationship with Jesus in the real world. …. Therefore, WE RESPOND TO initiatives that offer us an understanding of the Sacraments, prayer and the liturgy [Eucharist?], in order to properly SHARE AND DEFEND OUR FAITH in the secular world.”

    The young whom this document is posited to represent are combining “our relationship with Jesus” with “understanding” central aspects of Catholic Faith. They “long” for experiences in both understanding and relationship with Jesus. That is in fact includes a plea for catechesis. One cannot share the faith without its being taught. “How shall they believe him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher” (Rom 10:14)

    I went on to say that the catechesis, is both a part of their/our necessary participation in the life and tradition of the Church, and very definitely as a necessary preparation to encourage them/us in that participation.

    There are parts of the document that reveal weaknesses in both the “understanding” and relationship with Jesus. I will only take one instance, related to salvation. One finds “Sadly, not all of us believe sainthood is something achievable and that it is a path to happiness.”

    There are many ways in which catechesis takes place. Teaching is one essential method. As with any student/teacher method it is not determinative and depends on the actual method used. And questioning is very formative, as you say, particularly so if done in the context of seeking “first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.” (Matt 6, 33)

  10. Sean O'Conaill says:

    #10 Thanks, Con. Your final reference to the situating of Catechesis in the context of the seeking of the Kingdom eases my misgivings about the prioritisation of the former.

    Apropos of which it will be crucial to disconnect ‘the kingdom’ from any particular historical model of church – especially the monological-clerical one that is falling apart just now in Ireland

    If not all young people see ‘sainthood’ as achievable, does that not imply that some do – and is this not exactly the same with older generations?

    You will remember what a song and dance was made recently about the canonisation of the parents of St Thérèse of Lisieux, precisely because they were a married couple rather than life-celibates?

    As though Jesus had ever said ‘I have overcome sexual desire’ rather than ‘I have overcome the world’. That sanctity has essentially to do with a spirit of service and of indifference to social status – rather than celibacy – has not effectively been conveyed in the culture of the Tridentine church we have grown up in. Those 16th C. bishops believed social hierarchy to be divinely determined rather than critiqued by the Gospel. Hence the clerical careerism and culture of secrecy that have disfigured the church, and the serious ambiguity surrounding the church’s teachings on sex.

    My misgivings over Catechesis will finally be set at rest when I see a model that restores the sacramental primacy of Baptism, relativises clerical Christendom, and therefore also prioritises the role of lay people in the church. It will be down to those younger generations to develop that: the template does not yet exist.

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